Friday, June 29, 2007

Enough already!

So I'm IMing with Doyle the other day, and it goes like this (taken directly from saved transcript):

cdoyle31: David Wright is the best third baseman ever.
me: What???
cdoyle31: Seriously. Hear me out. His PECOTA projections are off the charts.
me: Mike Schmidt?
cdoyle31: Don't be a homer. He's a borderline HOFer.
me: What the fuck are you talking about?
cdoyle31: Seriously. Have you seen his JAWS?
me: That's it. That's the last straw. You've become the Hitler of statistics.
cdoyle31: Hitler wasn't even that bad. You're getting too caught up in traditional stats like body count. Now Mussolini, on the other hand ...

He said that! I swear. Then he said that Ryan Howard would never make the HOF because he'd father too many illegitimate children and voters don't like that.

Seriously though, the Howard thing seems relatively cogent to me. The only places I disagree are, in order of strength:

1. Jaffe is absolutely high if he thinks it's a given that Howard's going to be DHing soon. He's not a free agent until 2012, which means that, unless six years from now is what he means by before too long, he must apparently think the Phils are going to either non-tender or trade a guy who last year became the first Phil to win the MVP in 20 years and is the most popular athlete in town now that Iverson's gone. Barring some kind of Rolen/Schilling situation -- which is always a possibility in Philly -- trading him would be the death knell for Pat Gillick. I don't think that's going to happen.

2. I think it's a bit strong to say (you, not Jaffe) that Ryan Howard has "considerable injury problems." He has never missed significant time at any level due to injury -- not to my knowledge, and definitely not in pro ball, although I don't know about college. The worst thing that's ever happened to him was a sprained knee ligament, which played on until he began to have quad problems (or maybe it was vice versa -- it's hard to say). Point is, he strained his leg. No structural damage. No surgery. He played hurt, mostly ineffectively, for a month, then missed 15 days. I don't think that's an indicator of anything, and it's certainly not anything you can project as being something that will limit him in years to come.

3. This is a really minor thing, but I don't think he plays the whole 2004 season even if Thome's not there. You don't generally promote anybody, much less position players, from A ball to the majors in one offseason. Although you're right in saying that after he hit 37 homers in AA, he'd have been a late-season callup for sure. And there was no way he should have been sitting at all in 2005.

I think he's got a pretty good shot at the HOF. You can try to project, but that's an iffy proposition at best when you're talking about a player with two years of MLB service as of right about now. Forget his body type, forget his age (but don't forget that 27 leaves him five years of prime even if you're really skeptical about it), and look at the fact that he's been in the majors for two years and has 100 HRs, a ROY, and an MVP. Let's not leave him off the 2022 ballot just yet.

But is he a lock? Of course not. Six more years like this and I think he's close. So I don't think we're disagreeing on the major points here.

I've got some other posts cooking re: the NBA draft and the Phillies' quest for 10,000 losses. But Cole Hamels is walking everybody except Carlos Beltran, whom he keeps throwing high change-ups that wind up in the second deck. A double-header sweep is not what I wanted to watch on this fine Friday afternoon.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

HOF 24-7

I don't think I can remember a time in my life when the Hall of Fame was spoken of more often. There are a lot of reasons for this phenomena, I believe, not the least of which is steroids and a generation of sports writers who are trying hard to figure out what, exactly, this particular baseball epoch means in the bigger picture. I've often chafed at the old-timers, like Joe Morgan, who insist the golden age of baseball has come and gone, but the defensiveness of today's "guardians" of the game is no less unsettling. Yeah, boys, it sucks that lots of players were doing steroids, and that management looked the other way and lathered themselves in piles money. But I've never heard anyone accuse Cal Ripken or Tony Gwynn accussed of doing anything except overeating in the case of the latter, and there were still some dickheads who didn't vote for either because they couldn't stand the thought of them being unanimous selections when Christy Mathewson wasn't. Here's a sampling of the ├╝ber logic used by some of these idiots, courtesy of sportswriter/genius Paul Ladewski (courtesy of Wikipedia):

"Besides, what makes Gwynn and Ripken so special that they deserve to be unanimous selections? Walter Johnson, Cy Young and Honus Wagner didn't receive such Hall passes. Neither did Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. In fact, nobody has in the history of the game. Based on the standards set by the Hall of Fame voters decades ago, is there a neutral observer out there who can honestly say Gwynn and Ripken should be afforded an unprecedented honor?"

What Ladewski, and many of his ilk, miss about the argument is that no one actually compares Tony Gwynn to Honus Wagner; people grasp the concept that, as time has progressed, the game has evolved into something it wasn't before. Gwynn and Ripken were such standouts among their peer group that a unanimous vote for either, or both, should have been expected.

But this is old saw, and not the purpose of the post; what got me thinking about this is Ryan Howard's special situation. Last night, he became the fastest player in baseball history to reach 100 career home runs, by 60 games. People talk all the time about the records that will "never" fall, a list which has grown to include DiMaggio's hitting streak, Rickey's stolen base record and Ty Cobb's murders. But I can say that Howard requiring 1/6th less of the time to reach 100 HRs than anyone else in baseball history will probably be one of the more impressive feats I get to see in my life. It's fairly stunning.

There is no question in my mind that, if Howard hadn't been blocked by Thome at first and had played the entire 2004 & 2005 seasons, we'd be looking at a figure between to 130-150 in the midst of his age-27 season, which is most often the peak year for hitters. In comparison, Adam Dunn has 220 HR in his age-27 season, thanks to his being a full-time player from the age of 22 (The earliest possible age Howard could have been called up was 23, and that was his last year in High A, so really it was only from 24 on that he "should" have been in the bigs, were it not for Thome), and Dunn is the only major league hitter I can think of right now that is even remotely similar to Howard (but that's a stretch, because Dunn's never broken 46 HR or a .400 OBP in his career).

In fact, I can't think of any player that's really been anything like Howard was last season, with the exception of Bonds 2.0. And even then, they're different; Bonds never had anything resembling Howard's pure power, Howard (at least right now) doesn't have anything resembling Bonds' contact rate (which is one of the leading indicators for sustainable BA). Bonds is obviously an HOFer if we're removing 'roids from the equation (and even with PEDs in the conversation, I can't imagine him not getting in), but there's a strong likelihood that the same won't be said for Howard when his career's finished. Part of that is bad luck w/r/t how long it took for him to get a full-time gig, and part of that is the fact that many, including myself, doubt whether or not he'll be able to age gracefully enough to generate the kind of career numbers needed to impress the Ladewskis of the world.

But, my question is such: What if Howard dogs the injury bug, and manages to put up five or six seasons that roughly approximate the value of his '06 season? If that were the case, one would have to imagine that it would be considered among the greatest spans of offensive performance in the history of baseball. Wouldn't that be enough?

Probably not.

Quoth Baseball Prospectus writer/HOF guru Jay Jaffe, whose JAWS system stacks up as the industry leader in measuring HOF candidacy (and who was kind enough to offer me a lengthy explanation to my inquiry in re: Ryan Howard's theoretical candidacy were he to maintain a a peak in line with his 2006 season, even though he's probably a busy man and has better things to do than writing lengthy e-mails to people he doesn't know):

* * *

It's a steep uphill battle Howard faces, for a few reasons. First,
he's already in his Age 27 season and thus likely to enter his
decline phase relatively "early" into his major-league career.
Second, he's already below average defensively at the easiest
position on the field; he'll be DHing like Thome or Ortiz before too
long, which will hold his WARP down because he'll get no credit for
playing the field.

Note that Ortiz has never had a WARP above 9.3 for all of his
crushing, and that the questionable value of even a below-average
fielding contribution to the team is balanced out by the fact that
clogging the DH spot means preventing one's teammates from cycling
through there as a matter of routine rest. So your Variteks and
Mannys and Damons lose at-bats that they might otherwise have on a
team with a more flexible DH situation.

Oh, and third, those leg problems such as he had earlier this year
look kind of ominous from a longevity standpoint. Big-body first
basemen aren't known for aging well.

Turning to what Howard has done, through last night, he had 325 games
played - pretty much exactly two seasons worth of playing time, and
an impressive 19.0 WARP3 worth of accomplishment in that span.
However, from a JAWS standpoint, he's got a 9.5 (2006), a 4.2 (his
88-game 2005 season) and then whatever this year turns out to be
(currently projected at an unremarkable 4.8). Given that the average
HOF first baseman's peak is 62.8, he's going to need to put up
something on the order of five more seasons like 2006 to create an
equivalent peak.

Having done that, he'll STILL be about 40 WARP3 short of the career
HOF 1B average of 106.1, so in order to shave that down, we're
talking about even more years of productivity similar to '06, or a
consistently higher level of productivity than he showed last year,
when the bum hit only 58 homers with a .346 EqA.

Having said all that, it's not outside the realm of possiblity Howard
could put up a career on the order of Hank Greenberg or Ralph Kiner,
dominating the home run category for the better part of a decade and
in doing so make such an impression on voters that he wins election
to the Hall. Its a longshot, of course, but not unprecedented.

Hope that helps,

Jay Jaffe
Author, Baseball Prospectus

* * *

Justin's reaction to the Jaffe opinion is similar to mine: I think there's a solid chance that a healthy Howard stays in Philly (and keeps his 1B job) despite his defense, because it would appear that the Phils have every reason to keep him around. If we're still operating in the fantasy land in which Howard doesn't have considerable injury problems, the team's willingness to sign Utley through his arbitration-eligible years indicates that Gillick's not a complete moron, and is willing to try and keep his homegrown studs from grazing in another man's field.

But, even if we dismiss his potential for injury and becoming a DH, the issue exists that not many people make it to the HOF because of great peaks. The Kiner and Greenberg analogies are telling both for providing a prospective precedent for a Howard-type hitter to gain entrance, and the rarity of their situations. It would appear that the odds are stacked insanely high against Howard.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

More on bad GMs

This BP article by Nate Silver is perhaps the single best short-form analysis of any franchise's administration I've read.

Ryno asked me what I thought about the Barrett trade the day after it happened, and I kinda ho-hummed it. Maybe it's because I like Bard a little more than I should. But, coming into this season, Barrett was probably the most valuable non-elite catcher in the majors (Mauer, Martinez, McCann, Martin, Posada) and some could have made an argument that his exclusion from that group wasn't such a no-brainer. Now, after less than a half-season and two incidents with teammates, he's sent off in what essentially amounts to a salary dump.

Barrett's 2007 weighted mean PECOTA Projection: .295/.357/.482

Barrett so far in 2007: .251/.299/.411, which is almost exactly his 10th-percentile projection ... meaning, he's playing as bad as he possibly could be considering his skill set, without the aid of amputation.

He could continue playing like shit and getting into fistfights with teammates. Or, he could revert to form and become, arguably, the sixth- or seventh-best offensive catchers in the majors (his defense is indefensibly bad, but whatever). What's most likely to happen?

What I'm saying is: What a fucking trade for the Padres. Even if it doesn't work out, what's the harm? You get somewhere in this game by either being bold or being rich, and the Pads are nothing if not the former.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

It's not just the Phillies, phuckers

Justin's long-time-coming post about the sheer lunacy of the Phils' contract situations — it's worth noting that he didn't always feel so strongly about how bad the Garcia trade was, but he also didn't know the dude had a bum shoulder (which the Phils should have known) — glanced at making a couple of conclusions about the free agent market I've been close to making for some time. I actually was going to write this post a little less than a month ago, but I got sidetracked and shelved the excel spreadsheet I had made and since had to update. It follows (click to make larger, and hopefully legible):

(Notes about the chart: I know, I know ... you think VORP is dumb. Whatever. I used it because it's a stat that applies to both pitchers and hitters, so it served as a good quick-and-dirty stat that would prevent me from having to do more protracted looks. Since it's a counting stat (like R or RBI), I excluded from the list anyone who's been injured for a significant portion of 06 or 07 (Wolf, Schmidt, Piazza, et al.) and relievers, since their VORP numbers aren't very telling because of the inherent bias toward higher IP and PA. Also, I removed Dice-K for myriad reasons. So, anyway, the chart shows what VORP figure the player is on pace for this season (based on his VORP through 46 percent of the season), the player's VORP from 2006, which is what I assume most GMs would be "paying for," as opposed to advanced projection systems like BP's PECOTA. Then, using the 10-run rule of thumb for VORP (10 VORP = roughly 1 win above average, as far as the system is concerned), I broke down what it appears the team will be paying for each addition win the FA adds, vs. what they "expected" to pay, again, based on last season's performance.

There's lots of flaws with this chart — VORP doesn't account for defense, the fact that I'm using a simple "on-pace" number that can very well be misleading, the distinct possibility that I allowed for values over 100 percent, and the massive negative values in money/win because guys like Lugo and Williams have negative VORPs, which renders the rest of it meaningless — but I meant for it to be, as I said, quick and dirty. Further, because of the internal consistency w/r/t measures, I believe the findings are valid in a general sense, if only to suggest that I'm at least on the right track with my argument. But, there's a host of better ways to do this chart, and if I had the time or ability, I'd use those instead.)

What I wanted to see was the success/failure rates of big-money free agent signings during this offseason, which anecdotally seemed even more unhinged than usual. Maybe I'll get around to doing a comparison, but it's not really central to my argument, which is that almost always, big free agent signings are horrible ideas and should be avoided.

But first, a breakdown of what the spreadsheet I painstakingly put together tells us (at least as far as I can tell, and with the understanding that it's a small sample size):

1) Pitchers, as we all probably knew already, tend to be the worst investments: Most everyone except Brian Sabean knew the Zito deal was an unmitigated disaster well before the season started, and nothing has happened this season to change anyone's mind. Same goes for the Eaton/Suppan head-scratchers. Surprisingly, two of the five most "successful" signings were geriatrics Greg Maddux (1 year, $10 million) and Andy Pettitte (1 year, $16 million), who are on pace to cost a little more than $3 million per win above average. That's a deal most teams — particularly teams like the Pads and Yanks who were making runs at the pennant — would be willing to take, and the fact that both are one-year deals makes them among the most sensible investments of the offseason. The other "successful" signings (at least so far) have been Gil Meche (who could pass his '06 VORP before the All-Star break), Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis (who already has surpassed his '06 VORP, which was negative). But those numbers are ignorant of the fact that all three got off to torrid starts and the latter two have cooled off since, and all three are signed for a number of years that could cause serious issues down the road.

2) Those long-term deals don't make much more sense today than they did in the offseason: Sure, you say, Soriano, Lee and Sarge are pretty much giving their teams what they paid for, based on 2006 vs. 07 performance. But those guys are signed for eight, six and five seasons, respectively. There is not a chance in hell — I will put hard currency on this — that any of those guys are even 50 percent as valuable as they are now in the final year of his deal. And the Astros are paying Lee $5.26 million per added win right now.

Tragically, those three and Meche are serving as the only examples of five-plus year contracts being anything but unmitigated disasters. I mean, it's a ridiculous number, but the chart is showing that Juan Pierre is costing the Odgers $220 million per win, if they were to pay him at this same scale until he finally earned them one. Also, congrats to Adam Eaton and Shea Hillenbrand for almost crashing Excel every time I entered the formula to figure out their cost per win.

3) GMs are clearly playing too much fantasy baseball: Actually, I take that back, because there's no way Hillenbrand (or the '06 editions of Marquis, Eaton, Gonzo and Huff) would even be useful in fantasy baseball. What the fuck were these guys thinking? And I really don't see this as a VORP-bias issue; I challenge anyone to find me a single statistic that justified the dollars being thrown at these guys. Sure, Gonzo and Marquis are off to great starts and could end up being valuable, but don't anyone tell me they saw that coming. And as for Hillenbrand and Huff ... really? I understand that "intangibles" and "clubhouse presence" are always trotted out as excuses for veteran signings, but isn't making $6-plus million a year to hit as well as the batboy could the very opposite of what intangiblearians are supposed to do? Wouldn't Eckstein's mystique be shattered if he was pulling down $10 milly a year and fucking crazy hot broads?

4) Past seasons are a pretty bad indicator of future success: The standard deviation for the difference between 06 VORP and 07 VORP is almost 24, which is astoundingly high even for such a small sample size (to get an idea of VORP's scale, the ML leader in VORP will generally be somewhere between 85-95 runs, so 24 is not a small number). I realize that GMs are easy to hammer because we have the benefit of hindsight, but they're also easy to hammer because the same ones seem to make stunningly stupid mistakes repeatedly. Part of the reason I chose 2006 VORP, as opposed to PECOTA projections, was because I was trying to be as kind to the decision-makers as possible, and assume that they were operating under the assumption that these players could be counted on to replicate the efforts of the season prior. But that shouldn't be expected to be the case because of my final observation:

5) One can generally expect, in fact, free agents to be worse than they were the year before: In our small sample size, the difference was -5.15 runs, on average, per player from the season before, with the aforementioned standard deviation of ~24. I believe that a larger look at the entire free agent pool, at the end of the season, will produce a slightly smaller number, but a negative one nonetheless. I'm confident that's the case, because we know one thing about free agents: They're almost always in their 30s. While saying things like this in the past have tended to draw me scowls, baseball is a young man's game and one can expect players to decline — often precipitously, especially for players who derive their value from only one or two tools — in their 30s. Of course, it's not guaranteed, as guys like Bonds, Durham, Clemens and Unit have proven. But those are extreme outliers; the vast majority of players can be expected to be much less valuable at age 34 than they were at 30. And, in the middle of that four-year gap, one can reasonably expect players to get worse on an annual basis.

One of the reasons I don't but the money = championships argument is because spending money = signing free agents. Yes, the Yankees can afford to make bad investments, but that doesn't mean they should. A-Rod, who was a special case because of his relatively young age when hitting free agency, is an exception (it also bears mentioning that the amount of A-Rod's contract the Rangers are still paying him makes him considerably less expensive than his overall price tag would suggest). The rest of the Yankees' free agent deals of note, lately, point toward the truth of the matter: Damon, Giambi and Pavano aren't so much bad luck as they are the rule playing to form (injuries count, by the way; players tend to get hurt more often as they get older, which adds to the "less value in general" conclusion). I don't care how much money you have, it's not a recipe for success when you have invested that amount of money in players who are producing well below the levels that would allow them to be considered successful.

If one looks over the baseball landscape this season, he or she will notice that the majority of the teams in contention are not big players on the free agent market. Yes, there's the Red Sox, and probably the Yankees when it's all said and done. Both the core of both those teams comes from players either grown or acquired in trades, and in most cases those players are being paid contracts that pale in comparison to the kind of money thrown at Lee and Soriano the past offseason. Ditto for the Mets, who benefit greatly from the presence of Carlos Beltran, but would not be where they are if not for a couple of guys named Reyes and Wright. From there, clubs like the Tigers, Indians, A's, Angels, Padres, Brewers, Braves and Diamondbacks prove that a combination of savvy in the market (which means great trades, and key low-cost free agent acquisitions) and the management of internal resources (scouting & development in concert with a neverending quest to re-up players early and have them under contract through arbitration-eligible years, like the Braves did with Andruw and the Padres did with Chris Young) is a franchise's best bet to contend.

Not all free agent signings are bad. Some are excellent, but most of those involve much more modest contract sizes that the ones on my chart. And, every so often, a once-in-a-generation player like A-Rod, or Vlad, or Santana (soon) comes around and can reasonably justify a hefty, long-term deal. But those are the rarities. The much stronger likelihood is that the teams who sign Torii Hunter, Dontrelle Willis, Andruw Jones and Carlos Zambrano in the next offseason will be sorely disappointed, and more so the fans of those team who believed that a championship can be purchased.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

What's the plural for albatross?; or, Pat Gillick, Meet Billy King

So Jon Lieber's out for the season after blowing a foot tendon running to back up the catcher. Freddy Garcia hasn't had surgery -- yet -- but I'm not optimistic and neither is anybody else. According to Beerleaguer, which seems to have scooped everybody (including both Philly papers) on this, J.D. Durbin has been called up to fill the hole.

The Beerleaguer article and what little else I know of Durbin fails to excite me. Former top prospect, history of arm trouble, stats not compelling, etc. Maybe it's the fact that we now have two rookies in the starting rotation -- he and Kyle Kendrick (Who? Exactly!) -- and that Pat Burrell has all but officially been replaced by Michael Bourn, giving us three starting center fielders, but all of a sudden I'm not liking our chances to catch the Mets.

Which leaves the Phillies, as many of the linked blogs to the left have noted, in exactly the same position they've been in every year since Rico Brogna: not good enough to contend, not bad enough to blow up, and not enough payroll flexibility to make any moves big enough to save them.

And why is that, exactly? Why is there never any payroll flexibility? Let's take a look at some of the people they're paying the most. (All salaries courtesy Cot's Baseball Salaries, which might be the greatest site I've found since fleshbot.) I'll stick with this season for now, although a few of these guys will unfortunately be with us next year.

Pat Burrell: $13M / .205/.373/.376, 8 HR, 31 RBI
Freddy Garcia: $10M / 5.90 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 74 ERA+, 1-5 W/L, 58 IP, out for season
Jon Lieber: $7.5M / 4.73 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 93 ERA+, 3-6 W/L, 78 IP, out for season
Tom Gordon: $7M / 4.82 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, 91 ERA+, 5 S, 9 IP, out long-term, possibly for season
Jim Thome: $7M / has not played for Philadelphia in a year and a half
Adam Eaton: $6.9M / 5.63 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 78 ERA+, 7-5 W/L

That's $51.4M of mostly wasted money, or roughly 57 percent of the 2007 payroll. More than half of the payroll is tied up in bad, injured, or completely absent players! What, are they taking a page from the Sixers? The only person listed there who will likely contribute anything significant for the rest of the season is Adam Eaton, who's also the cheapest of the bunch. And Pat Gillick is responsible for all those guys except for Burrell and Thome.

Meanwhile, their best players -- for my money, that's Rollins/Utley/Howard/Hamels/Myers/Rowand, not in that order -- make a grand total of just less than $22.5 milly. Granted, those numbers are skewed because Howard and Hamels haven't been in the majors long enough to get what they're worth and are still making less than $2M combined.

But still. The Phillies' payroll could be half as much and they'd be just as good (or just as bad, depending on how you choose to look at it). That's sickening.

Especially when you compare them to a team with a competent front office. For kicks, and because they're one of this blog's favorite teams, I browsed through the Padres' salaries. Here are their priciest players:

Maddux: $10M / 3.84 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 104 ERA+, 6-4
Brian Giles: $9M / .276/.347/.347, 1 HR, 12 RBI
"Mythical" Mike Cameron: $7M / .261/.322/.468, 8 HR, 34 RBI
Hoffman: $6.5M / 2.00 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 19 SV, lots of good publicity with his 500th
Peavy: $4.75M for the best pitcher in the NL

Sure, B. Giles is an iffy contract, but that's the only one that's even questionable, and at least he's going to play the rest of the season.

The moral of this post: you can have all the great young players you want (the Phillies have a ton, the Padres have ... uh, Khalil Greene), and if your front office sucks, it doesn't matter. The Padres have a much better GM in Towers, and that's why the Padres are going to go to the playoffs with a $58M payroll and the Phillies won't even though they're spending $89M.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

You're really giving 110%, partner.

Wait a sec: I'm supposed to trust advanced statistical analysis from a dude who thinks if the season is 43 percent over, there's still 67 percent left to play? And says it twice? Sweet Mike Schmidt on a saltine.

I've really only got one major point to make in response to your post. But first a few clarifications. (I really wish I had saved the IM conversation so I could prove you said some of this.) The argument in question arose out of a back-and-forth Diesel and I were having about Jon Lieber going on the DL (in case any of you missed it, he twisted his ankle running to back up the catcher, right after he blew the lead). The Phils just lost Freddy Garcia and Myers is both on the DL and apparently entrenched in the 'pen, which means a team that started the season with 6 starters now has 3 and a guy they just called up from AA. I mentioned that there's been a lot of chatter about trading Aaron Rowand for another pitcher, and that the good folks over at A Citizen's Blog had mentioned Carlos Zambrano.

Diesel first said how inconsistent and volatile Zambrano is, and that he'd lost velocity. The first two, sure. I don't know if that last part is true, and I doubt if he does, either. But whatever. Then Diesel said the Cubs would "never trade Zambrano."

"Why not?" I asked. "He's an inconsistent pitcher in his walk year who just beat the shit out of the starting catcher. And they're not going to make the playoffs, so why not get something for him?"

Diesel took the bait and said something ridiculous about how the Cubs were even money to win the Central.

Ding ding.

Thankfully, he's much more reasonable about it in his recent post, which makes sense save for that whole 43/67 thing, and what I think is another miscalculation. Namely, isn't it logically unsound to view the teams' current win/loss records as part of a probability of the entire season's? This is a hard idea to verbalize, so forgive me if this sounds patronizing. But here's what I'm trying to say:

1. The Cubs and Brewers already have their respective records. They are a statistical certainty.
2. The rest of the season is the only part that is still subject to statistical projection. Meaning 57 percent of the season.
3. Therefore, is it not unsound, logically speaking, to view what's already happened -- a statistical certainty, a fact -- as part of a season-long projection of performance? Wouldn't you have to treat only the remaining 57 percent as the statistical uncertainty? And wouldn't that make it even less likely that the Cubs go on a hot streak that coincides with a Brewers swoon, and that both happen to the tune of an 8.5 game margin? The certainty of the actual standings is why the adjusted standings don't matter -- if the adjusted standings were true, you'd have a much better chance of winning this argument, but they're not, so you don't. The Cubs need to be even more lucky for the rest of the year than they've been unlucky thus far. I feel like I'm not being clear, but hopefully you catch my drift.

20 percent sounds about right to me. That figure makes it less fun, because you were talking 50/50 earlier. But whatever. The Cubs are not going to win the NL Central. That's what I'm saying. Sure, I also said Freddy Garcia was going to be a valuable pitcher for the Phils this year, but what the fuck. I stick by it, and I'll stick by this. If you lose I want a Brewers hat (size 8 -- go ahead and laugh), and if you win I'll get you Dusty Baker's autograph.

By the powers of Ron Santo

During one of our irregular, meandering internet conversations today, I offered the following prediction to Pepe: The Cubs would very likely be in serious contention for the NL Central this season up until the end of the season, and I don't believe it's out of the question that they could actually win the damn thing. Cue incredulous scorn from my counterpart, who mentioned three reasons why he doesn't believe this is the case:

1) The Cubs are currently 8.5 games out of first place in the Central;
2) The Cubs sucked in 2006;
3) The players on the Cubs suck, at least in contrast to current front-runner Milwaukee.

The first two are obvious truths, and the third is a subjective claim. I'll get to No. 3 in a minute.

Currently, the Cubs' record sits at 32-39, which is good for third place in the putrid NL Central. There is no question that, for a team that spent a total of $300 million during the offseason, this is a disappointment (and further evidence that spending and success in baseball do not share a direct correlation). If the Brewers continued to play at this pace, the Cubs would have to sport a .652 winning percentage for the rest of the season, which is greater than the Red Sox's current pace (.648). That is unlikely, to say the least. So, if one were to formulate his or her opinion of the Cubs' playoff chances based purely on W-L records, it would appear safe to stick a fork in the North Siders and crown the asses of the Milwaukee Brewers.

But that would assume that W-L records are useful as predictive tools, and there's no reason to think that's the case, particularly in this situation. First, the Brewers and the Cubs have played 71 and 70 games, respectively, which is roughly 43 percent of the season. That's far from a large enough portion of the season to draw reliable conclusions about what will happen for the remaining 67 percent of the season (particularly considering that remaining part of the season is likely to include a large number of roster changes, via trades, injuries or call-ups). If Prince Fielder breaks his jaw on an overbaked hoagie tomorrow, and misses a couple of weeks while being fed intravenously, one cannot expect the Brewers to keep playing this well. Conversely, if the Cubs finally give touted prospect Felix Pie enough at-bats for him to start playing to his potential, the Cubs could begin playing better both offensively and defensively (more Pie = less Jacque Jones). So, there are a lot of variables that will determine these two teams' fates for the rest of the season.

But there's also the issue of what a current W-L record is based on. While a W-L record is the only measure that matters to a team when it's all said and done, that doesn't mean it's an accurate indication of how well (or poorly) a team has played to date, or how well/poorly one can expect that team to continue playing from here on in.

So, what is? A couple of things. Most notably, there's the concept of a team's Pythagorean Record, a concept created by Bill James that has since been modified to allow for more factors, including run-scoring environments (See here for a rather dense explanation). A Pythagorean-based calculation results in First-Order Wins. Then there are two other measures, referred to as Second- and Third-Order Wins. These are based on Equivalent Runs, a measure that attempts to place value of an offensive performance of players based on playing time and position. Second-order wins are a stepping stone to Third, which used Adjusted Equivalent Runs, a measure that takes into account to opposition and environment (for example, the value of a HR off Jake Peavy in PETCO park is greater than the value of a HR off Woody Williams in whatever the fuck they call Enron these days). I'll be honest and admit that the how of arriving at these numbers is a little mind-boggling — it bears mentioning that the people who came up with these formulae are not only way smarter than me, but also highly educated in the field of statistics and mathematics — but that doesn't mean the what is any less valid.

Here is BP's adjusted standings page, which list the first-, second- and third-order wins of all the teams in the major leagues. It takes a second to process everything, and I suggest looking at the legend to clarify exactly what it is you're looking at.

Now, I know what you're saying: "So the fuck what? Just because some nerds have come up with a measure doesn't mean that it means anything. A team's W-L record is what's important, because that's what determines post-season eligibility." And that's obviously the case. But what we're attempting to do here is figure out, with some measure of accuracy, what teams are going to do for the next 67 percent of the season. I know that some people still scoff at the notion, but luck has played a role in the success and failure of teams so far this season. The Brewers, for instance, started off the season like gangbusters, and built a massive lead early on. Obviously, the team couldn't support that rate for the entire season, and regressed. Conversely, the Cardinals were absolutely horrible to start out the season, but eventually began playing better because they weren't really that bad. However, those small periods of time still have a massive effect on the W-L records we see now, because those unsustainable streaks have yet to be adequately buttressed with periods of normalcy, or even equally-unsustainable winning/losing streaks.

Based on what the BP chart tells us, the Cubs have played baseball at a level that is more likely to result in a 37- or 38-win record than a 32-win one. And — surprise, surprise — the Brewers have played at virtually exactly the same level. The BP charts indicate that the Cubs and the Brewers should be in a tie for first place in the win column, with the Brewers roughly one loss back.

I think the results that show on the BP chart are indicative of the usefulness of the measures; it's fairly accurate in nailing what the actual standings are, in most cases, and that accuracy rate will likely increase as the season goes on and the effect of random variation is reduced. I can't find the chart for 2006, but when I find one, I'll post it; it was quite on-point.

Luck isn't the entire story for teams that play below or above their Pythagorean records. Beyond possible inequities in strength of schedule thus far, the Cubs exemplify the kind of team that is highly susceptible to this kind of difference, mainly because of a poor record in close games. That usually is an indicator of a bad bullpen and a shaky defense, which fits with the Cubs. Furthermore, teams with low OBPs tend to be more slump-prone, as the success of an offense becomes more dependent on power and surges in hitting. That applies to the Cubs as well.

However ...

Teams that have a variation of more than a game or two between the actual W-L record and the Pythagorean records are outliers; it just doesn't happen all that often, because runs scored vs. runs allowed are easily the best single indicator of a team's quality. With that being the case, it is highly likely that there will be a correction over the course of the season for the Cubs, as well as the Brewers (to a lesser degree, since they're only playing roughly 2 games over their Pythagorean). It's likely that the Cubs will need to have a hot streak or two where they play above their heads, but that's not abnormal at all, almost to the point where it's to be expected.

At this point, the always-entertaining BP Playoff Odds Report (based on Monte Carlo simulations) shows the Cubs as having a 20 percent chance of winning the NL Central. I would suggest that the chances of the Cubs being "contenders" — a designation that Pepe set at being within two games back or less with a week or so left in a season, which is sensible — are much higher than that. The one thing I will back off on is that I'm not sure those chances are even-money or better; I can't begin to do the math needed to arrive at that kind of conclusion with any reliability. But I'm going to e-mail Davenport and see if he can shed any light on making that kind of conclusion.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Respect the cocks

So D. Suave and Diesel are off on another one of their philosophical tangents, but fuck that -- I'm not getting embroiled in another one of those.

I'm more interested in something Colin said as a side argument in one of his comments: that dog fighting is worse than cock fighting. I'm marginally ashamed to admit this, but I have actually had multiple long and public arguments about this, including one drunken exchange with a former coworker at the Home Plate bar and batting cage that prompted everybody else in the bar to opine (meaning all three of the fat chicks).

The general consensus seems to be that dog fighting is worse than dog fighting. I disagree. And I don't really care one way or the other which is more culturally acceptable -- as an expert on brown music, I understand that cockfighting is ingrained in Latino culture, especially -- because if we're talking about sheer levels of cruelty, cockfighting wins, and it's not close.

It's not as if either sport is not cruel, of course. Both are enterprises in which animals are bred and trained for the express purpose of fighting. The animals all wind up dying, whether in the ring or after the fight, and I'm assuming even those rare champions who "retire" don't exactly live the high life for the rest of their brief battle-scarred existence. And animals suffer brutality and pain in both.

However, I have a hard time believing dog fighting is more vicious than cockfighting, especially considering the big fucking knives they strap to the feet of fighting cocks! This is a picture of an actual cockspur from a cockfighting website:

Granted, they don't do that in some countries that practice cockfighting. But somehow I doubt that anybody ever strapped swords to Fido's forearm and sent him off into the ring. Just imagine what that knife could do to your cock.

And even when they don't use spurs, cockfighting is far from the barnyard pecking so many people seem to envision. Observe cockfight highlights here. (Eyes off the ring girls, B. Focus.) I'm pretty sure that last clip is a winner biting the head of a dead opponent.

Whenever I present this argument, I get the same response. "Oh, Pepe, stop being such a contrarian. We all know dogs are smarter than roosters. Their pain hurts more."

Uh, really? Dogs are smarter than roosters? That's funny, because I owned dogs my entire life, and they sure as hell didn't seem too sharp to me. We had a one-eyed Lhasa Apso (lost it to a coyote -- long story) for years, and I used to love to walk up to it on its blind side, call its name, and then circle so I stayed on its blind side until it gave up in confusion. And you know what? It never turned the other direction. The Great Danes we used to breed never figured out that if you run across the kitchen tile, you're going to skid face-first into the pantry door. Dogs are fucking stupid, people. They just are.

What gets me is the underlying assumption behind the "dogs have more value as creatures" argument. It's the same reason dipshit hippies freak out when you tell them you've gone deer hunting but nobody cares if you kill coyotes. It's the same reason people scream when they see rats but try to pet rabbits, which are just rats with fur.

The only reason people think dogfighting is worse than cockfighting is because dogs are cute. Dogs are fuzzy, and dogs sleep at your feet, and dogs come when you call them. Roosters are loud and mean and good for pretty much nothing but eating. And besides, none of us have ever owned a rooster, but everybody remembers Fluffy who got hit by a Lincoln. (I'd actually be interested to know how many of you have ever seen a live rooster. Colin said he has. Anybody else?)

And yeah, maybe dogs have bigger brains than roosters, but let's face it, folks: they're still just animals. They eat dog food and run after tennis balls and lick their own nuts. Just because you project all these human qualities onto your dog so you feel as if you're important to somebody -- hey, good for you, it's better than having a child for the same reason, like so many other people -- doesn't mean your prize Shitzu is analyzing the relative meaningfulness of its own life. Not even if you name it Sartre.

So dogs' pain doesn't hurt worse than roosters' pain. Neither is capable of understanding the pain within a larger context. They have instinctual and habitual urges to fight, to win, to keep living. They obviously understand danger. But they're not human, and so I don't think it's really profitable to try to measure the amount of pain they feel. Whether it's a cock getting gouged with a three-inch razor blade or a pit bull's leg clamped in another's jaws, it hurts. A lot.

(An aside: I just remembered this, but I swear this actually happened. A few weeks ago when Diesel and I were having the God argument, he was making some half-assed point about dolphins as a metaphor for humanity. "Dolphins don't have language," I said. "Dolphins don't have the ability to reason." And guess what he said?

"How do you know?"

I promise he said that.)

So, since all other things are pretty much equal -- the amount of pain, the ferocity of the fights, the miserable lives of the combatants -- I'm going to go ahead and say that the sport in which they cut off the wattles of the fighters and strap big knives to their feet is slightly crueler.

And yes, I do realize that this is among the most pointless arguments possible.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

And who the fuck drinks tea, anyway? You got the cramps or something, England?

You know who's fucking awesome? Alexi Lalas, that's who! Not only does he have decidedly wacky hair (or at least used to), but he's telling those bad-teeth-havin', no-coffee-drinkin', George Bush-hatin', Underground-ridin', Parliamentary-governed, Monarchy-toleratin', coal-mine-closin', Muslim-riot-fadin', cocksucking British assholes where they can shove their fucking football soccer superiority.

America: Fuck Yeah!

Only problem is that Lalas is wrong. Like, totally fucking, irreconcilably wrong. Wrong like saying, "Islam is Peace."

"In England, our league is considered second class, but I honestly believe if you took a helicopter and grabbed a bunch of MLS players and took them to the perceived best league in the world they wouldn't miss a beat and the fans wouldn't notice any drop in quality.''

This is kind of like saying that if we picked up the Yakult Swallows in a helicopter and flew them into Yankee Stadium, people wouldn't notice a difference in play. Or Maccabi against the Spurs. Or Roddick vs. Federer. Or Barbaro vs. Laminitis. The point is: Just because two people, or groups of people, do the same thing and get paid for it does not mean that the two persons/groups do so at equal levels of ability.

Maybe, Alexi, if the helicopter cherry-picked the very best MLS players left in the league (you know, the ones who aren't good enough to get contract offers from European clubs, which they would invariably jump at the second there's an offer), you could assemble a side that could give one of the better EPL teams a ride. I don't think they win, since the better EPL teams generally include at least one player who is considered the premier talent of his home country (Man-U: Ronaldo; Chelsea: Drogba; Arsenal: Henry; Liverpool: ... Kuyt? Bellamy? ... I should ask the girl who writes You'll Never Blog Alone about this, right after I see if she wants to bear my child, because there are few bigger turn-ons in this world than 20-year-old redheaded law students who love soccer, and all of the alternatives involve Sarah Jessica Parker, an anvil and pneumatic nail gun) and the U.S.'s best players — with the exception of Landycakes — play in Europe as well, which doesn't make any of them available for this supremely awesome and totally ridiculous hypothetical match. Actually, the more I think about it, an MLS All-Star team is probably about a 6-1 dog against any of the top four teams in the EPL. Maybe a little more for Man U and Chelsea, a little less against Arsenal, and pretty much dead-on for Liverpool. Obviously, the closer one gets to the relegation line, the better the odds of MLS team would be, and I have no problem believing that this MLS team could beat some of the lesser EPL teams, perhaps even handily. But that's no different than accepting that a Japanese League All-Star team could beat up on the Royals, or that maybe John Daly's wife had a reason to try stabbing him in the fucking face. But does proving that one league's best could beat another league's worst (or, at best, mediocre) really prove anything? Furthermore, how much fuel would a helicopter big enough to transport an entire soccer team across the Atlantic require? I bet you just positing that question to Sheryl Crow could get that played-out hag to have a seizure.

But getting back to the idiot of the hour, what the fuck is Lalas after here? He gave this interview to a British paper, which must just love another opportunity to pillory an American for not thinking before speaking (or, worse, purposely antagonizing countries that do their best to like us). It's not like his stupidity is going to inspire more British people to care about a sport that is absent from U.K. airwaves. And Lalas' comments are precisely the kind of condescending shit that drives Americans away from fringe leagues like the MLS; instead of being honest and giving us some credit for knowing the difference between the MLS and the EPL in terms of quality of play, he tries to tell us that we only feel the way we do about the league because we're ignorant, which is charming in a Noam Chomsky sorta way. No one likes to be browbeaten, as evidenced by the NBA's failure to guilt people into watching the WNBA despite the former making it clear that our not doing so makes us sexist assholes. Nor does anyone like being lied to, or want to root for whiny pricks whose public comments are dictated by an inferiority complex.

But there's hope yet for American soccer, according to some Brits who caught a L.A.-Salt Lake tilt recently:

"The game was not without moments of quality ... [but] some of the defending from both sides was the type of stuff you watch through your fingers,'' according to The Mirror. "It was the football equivalent of a demolition derby."

Last I checked, people actually attend demolition derbies. It sounds like someone needs to convince Eddie Pope that he's doing work, and shouldn't retire after the season.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Good Lord

I have come to expect that, in a format such as this, it's almost impossible to avoid having one's case stated for you when you write something that is even remotely vague. But it's still shocking when I have my case stated for me, and I haven't written anything at all ... instead, I had a booze-addled conversation with a friend of mine on my porch Saturday night that hit on, among other things, Ichiro's relative value. Unbenownst to me, apparently, my friend was also either half-asleep or suffering from Horchata-induced brain freeze, because he's managed to completely misrepresent my argument in re: Ichiro's relative value, or at least overstate those points I actually did (try to) make.

Things I actually did say or argue:
- Ichiro's overrated;
- Ichiro's OBP isn't as good as it could be;
- Ichiro's defense is probably not as good, in reality, as his reputation suggests;
- Ichiro's going to make waaaaaaaay more money as a free agent that he's worth.

Things I did not actually say or argue:
- Ichiro's OBP is sub-.350, or "terrible";
- Ichiro's a bad defender;
- Walking is the "right way" to get on base;
- Adam Dunn is my Lord and Savior (we all know that's Pronk).

Also: accusing other people of the use of straw men, in your case, is throwing stones from a house almost completely made of straw. Or would it be that you're building me into a straw house? Whatever: The point is: Pot + Kettle = TGWNA.

But here's the important part: Upon further review, you're right. I thought there might be a chance that more advanced statistics than the ones you cite would contradict your point, but it's actually the opposite; Ichiro's the best CF in 2007 in terms of VORP, and he's on pace for one of the best seasons of his career in his age 33 season (10.2 WARP3), which is remarkable. Furthermore, he's trending toward his second-highest season walk total, a career-high slugging percentage, and is sporting the highest EqA of his career (.311)*.

The defensive stuff is so difficult to quantify in any authoritative way that I'm not sure it's even worthwhile trying to compare his defense to contemporaries. I will absolutely concur, however, that one is not likely to realize a large uptick in defensive efficiency by going with the Camerons, Hunters of Joneses of the world over Ichiro, who appears to be as effective in center as he was in right field. And even if one believed that those three were vastly better than Ichiro with the glove, his offensive value advantage is great enough to render defense meaningless.

I did not expect to make that last statement when I first looked into Ichiro's numbers, to be honest. If you had asked me a day ago if Ichiro was more valuable than Andruw Jones, I would have said "no" without hesitation. Silly me:

2006 WARP3: Ichiro 9.2 - Jones 8.6
6-year WARP3: Ichiro 55.5 - Jones 48.3

2006 EqA: Ichiro .281 - Jones .299 (One area of advantage for Jones)
However ...
Carrer EqA: Ichiro .289 - Jones .283

Plus, Ichiro's having such a better season than Jones this year, it's fairly silly.

If we're talking about what available centerfielder I want on my team next season, almost regardless of need, I would take Ichiro without hesitation (though, in some cases, Jones' massive advantage in power might be more important to a team than Ichiro's superiority in every other offensive category of import).

About the only reason for pause is going to be the length of any contract with Ichiro, considering he's in his age-33 season and a large amount of his value is tied up in speed. However, there are lots of contemporary examples of older players managing to retain a good deal of their speed into the late 30s. There's also the issue of Ichiro's likely skills consolidation as his career progresses; it's entirely conceivable that, as Ichiro's speed and athleticism decline, he will start hitting for more power and draw more walks, a career arc consistent with many other hitters of his caliber. So, there's a good chance that, unlike the Lees, Sarges and Pierres of this world, he could actually sign a longer-term contract that won't almost certainly be an albatross for his team within three years. But, considering that he's likely going to pull in more than $15 million a year, he'll still be overvalued, perhaps the only one of my original arguments I'm willing to stand by in any way, shape or form.

There is one thing, however, that you're totally and utterly wrong about, Justin: Ichiro and Rickey aren't really comparable. Henderson had more power, got on base way more, and was a superior base stealer. Probably the only thing that makes the careers appear as close as they do is that Henderson played well into his late 30s/early 40s, and managed to do some real damage to his career numbers (most particularly his slugging percentage).

But, other than that and a lot of the things you accused me of saying, you're pretty much dead-on. Good job!

* Obviously, by "career" I mean major-league career; I don't have anything of use from Japan.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

You should stick to basebarr, Ichiro

I was discussing with Connor the other night the relative value of Ichiro, and, as usual, he was making wild and unsubstantiated claims about how not-good and overrated he is. And, as usual, I disagree. To sum up:

I contend that Ichiro is a once-in-a-generation player whose lack of power (and lack of interest in hitting for power) ensures that he will be perennially underrated in today's baseball environment.

Connor contended, among other things I can't remember, that he wasn't that good defensively and had a terrible on-base percentage.

So, here's my case. In an effort to avoid Connor's inevitable construction and burning of straw men, I'll specify that I am saying all of these things:

Ichiro is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. If you doubt this, I encourage you to consult his baseball reference page, which, among all the other impressive stats, puts his HOF Monitor number at 147 (130 is a "virtual cinch"). You might want to load it, anyway: we'll be referring back. Stats aside, the man is the most obvious and unique talent I have ever seen play baseball, but of course that's hard to quantify or prove. I've always thought that greatness is much like pornography: you know it when you see it.

Ichiro is one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. I actually think he's the single best, possibly even among the best ever at his position, but I'll stick with the bolded claim for the sake of moderation. He's better even than Mythical Mike Cameron, who is so often fluffed in our circles. I don't have access to any resource that I can find with comprehensive defensive statistics, but for a quick gauge, look at his Range Factor numbers thus far in his first season as a center fielder:

Ichiro: RFg 3.08 RF9 3.22
Cameron: RFg 2.59 RF9 2.57

(For reference, the league averages are 2.46 and 2.76, respectively.)

Much of that is due to Ichiro's speed -- the best in the majors, unless it's Shane Victorino -- which leads us to ...

Ichiro is the best leadoff hitter in baseball. Even if he hasn't always hit leadoff. I say this for a number of reasons -- his sick steal numbers, his baserunning acumen, his obvious craftiness, the fact that he has averaged .70 runs scored per game for his career, the fact that he grounds into an average of 5 double plays per year -- but I'll make my primary argument one dear to your heart:

Ichiro gets on base. Now, granted, everybody's favorite Asian (well, male Asian...) doesn't do it in the right ways, according to Diesel. He doesn't walk a whole lot or hit home runs. He just, you know, gets more hits over a five-year span than anybody in the history of baseball. But that said, his career OBP is still 26th among active players -- which would make him tops among leadoff hitters (assuming he's going to hit leadoff wherever he winds up) and is just 3 ten-thousandths lower than Doyle's only acknowledged Lord and Savior, Adam Dunn. (By the way, .377 is also a far cry from the sub-.350 career OBP you extemporaneously quoted, Diesel.)

And, further, I'll take my Ichiro rove one step further: Of the available free agent CFs (Jones, Hunter, Ichiro, second-tier guys like Cameron and Rowand), I'd rather see my team sign Ichiro than any of the others.

I'll start from the bottom. We've got Rowand right now, and as great as he's been this year, I don't think he'll maintain it. I like him, love his attitude, think he's an above-average center fielder and a guy I would want on my team. But he's not in the same league as Jones or Ichiro. Same thing with Cameron: good power, good defense, but doesn't get on base enough (although it would be interesting to see him play in CBP).

I also like Torii Hunter as a player. However, we're talking about a guy with a career .324 OBP and a sizable injury history. He's also not in the same class as Jones or Ichiro defensively, despite his reputation. His RF numbers are actually worse than the league average.*

Which leads us to Andruw and Ichiro. Andruw's got better power numbers, obviously, by far. But that is the only thing Andruw Jones brings to the table that Ichiro doesn't. Ichiro's as good or better defensively*, far more consistent in his production, and, I would argue, something that's harder to find in baseball these days: a near-perfect leadoff hitter. I'll admit that I hate Andruw Jones and the Braves, but consider this: if defense is a wash (and I think it is), which of these career single-season averages is more singular and harder to find in an outfielder?

Jones: 96 R 156 H 34 HR 103 RBI 13 SB 66 BB 128 K .264/.343/.501

Ichiro: 114 R 230 H 10 HR 62 RBI 40 SB 48 BB 65 K .332/.378/.439

Let's also not forget that Ichiro has played his entire career in one of the consistently worst hitter's parks in the majors. At CPB, I'm convinced he'd be good for 20 homers a year -- hell, Shane Victorino's on pace to hit that many. (Which leads us to another reason I'd rather have him on my favorite team: my favorite team is the Phillies, who need an Ichiro much more than they need another slugger.)

For me, though, a pair of unquantifiables cinch the deal: his international stardom and his attitude. Wherever Ichiro goes, he's taking the attention and money of a massive Japanese fan base with him. He's also taking his personality. Namely, unlike Jones, Ichiro is both eminently quotable and fanatically committed to being the best baseball player in the world -- see this McSweeneys' article for some choice examples, such as this gem after the throw to get Long: "The ball was hit right to me. Why did he run when I was going to throw him out?"

Yes, Ichiro is older, but he keeps himself in better shape than maybe anybody in the majors (certainly more than Jones in any non-contract year), so I don't think his age accurately reflects his projected contribution, even over the term of a four- or five-year deal. Ichiro has Ricky Henderson written all over him.

Plus he says he wants to become a pitcher when he turns 40. He looks better than the Phils' current bullpen arms.

* -- I realize that I'm relying too much on RF to quantify defense, but that's about my only choice in terms of available stats. Fielding percentage doesn't tell you much for outfielders, and assists aren't always a great indicator of a player's arm -- I doubt a whole lot of people tried to go first-to-third on Ichiro after he gunned Terrence Long. If anybody has access to better statistical comparisons, by all means.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cuntjustification, Pt. 2

I actually have a post on baseball free agency almost completely written out, mainly because I (stupidly) didn't think the MT stuff would be very compelling to anyone but me. I was pleasantly mistaken. So, that'll come another day. Tease: Juan Pierre's contract is outrageous! Bet you can't wait.

Where to begin? A request has been made for some further substantiation of the claims made against MT, and it's proven to be a relatively difficult task when one is restricted to the interweb (my interest in the issue isn't great enough to buy anything about it). But I have found some things of interest (sorry, D, no "stats," though I fail to see what stats one could actually get on the subject, since MT refused to publicize anything except the mythology surrounding her order), that are worth mentioning. One of them is a Slate article by Chris Hitchens, who wrote a book called The Missionary Position that was all about our favorite Calcuttian.

(Aside on Hitchens: What does his drinking have to do with anything? Not only is he honest about his drinking — probably even proud of it — I challenge anyone to read something he's written and show me an example of how the scotch has diluted his ability to think or write one bit. To dismiss Hitchens' points because of his drinking is to engage in behaviour fit only for Republican presidential candidates)

There's also the book written by the timid-looking man who was interviewed in the Penn & Teller clip: The Final Verdict by Aroup Chaterjee, a Calcutta native who did extensive research on MT before her death. He's published the first three chapters online, and they make for some interesting reading. In the interest of offering a preview, here's a part that caught my eye:

On 30 August 1996, at around 5 p.m., I found a small commotion in front of Shishu Bhavan's entrance - a 'very poor' woman, Noor Jehan (name slightly changed at her own request), was wailing at the top of her voice. She had with her, her two children, both girls, the younger one about 10 months and the older about 2 years old. The 10 month old was obviously suffering with diarrhoea and was ill; the 2 year old was miserable and fed up and was lying on the pavement, screaming.

I asked Noor Jehan what the matter was. She told me that she had been thrown out of her home (she lived in a slum near the Calcutta docks) by her violent husband the night before and she had arrived at Shishu Bhavan at 10 p.m. hoping to get some help for her children. She had been let in by the night porter and had been allowed to sleep in the courtyard - they had even given her a sheet for her children. Promptly at 5 a.m. however, she had been thrown out on to the pavement with a cup of tea. From then on, she had been alternately pleading and demanding to be let in, so that the children could have something to eat and somewhere to sleep.

Noor Jehan's entreaties for help were not entertained by the nuns - the door remained firmly shut in her face. The baby's hungry wails were ignored. The local shopkeepers took pity on the woman and gave her some tea and bread; somebody brought some milk for the children. By the time that I arrived at 5 p.m., a small crowd of about a dozen people had gathered and had turned quite hostile towards the nuns.After a lot of loud banging, a nun appeared at the door. I asked her why they would not give the woman and her children some food, and shelter for that night only. The nun explained that they could do that, but only after the mother had handed over the absolute rights of her children to the Missionaries of Charity. In other words, the 'form of renunciation' had to be signed, or in this case, had to be imprinted with the impression of Noor Jehan's left thumb. The children would then, in due course, be adopted by a good Catholic family in the West - the last bit is my own presumption; the nun did not actually say it.

A couple of other things I stumbled across: An article in The New Statesman and an article by a former member of her order.

In reference to D's criticism of my criticism: Of course MT's done more "good" for the poor than I have. But I submit that MT has also done more harm to the poor than I have, both with her Skinner-esque approach to "helping" the poor and the use of her political capital to wage war against abortion and divorce. Furthermore, I submit MT had the ability to do much more good than she actually did, as evidenced by the money she raised under the auspices of helping the poor and eventually used to build convents instead. While I realize that charitable giving isn't a zero-sum equation, it's plausible to suggest that lots of people who wished to give to the poor would have diverted their funds to more honest sources had the truth — or at least some of the accusations — regarding MT's ministry been told in her lifetime. So, I'm willing to count against MT the good that wasn't done by her as, at least, lost "opportunity cost." Thus, she's a cunt.

Mark: I understand your point completely, but I'm not sure I see much moral distinction between the ends of your three options (welfare, religious organizations or abandonment). Both welfare and religious organizations have perpetuated the problem of poverty, in my opinion, by either attempting to buy off those who suffer from it, or tell them that to be decrepit is noble. At least in the case of abandonment, we don't take an active role, which isn't any more "wrong" than actively abetting poverty itself.

I realize the validity of the, "Well, at least the church is willing to do something," argument, but that doesn't make it any less troublesome. Society ends up paying a pretty extreme price in return for religion taking care of the abject, usually in the form of having to tolerate the organizations themselves. MT is a perfect example of this: If any other Nobel Prize winner got up on stage and said something as utterly insane as abortion being the "greatest destroyer of peace," he or she would become an instant punchline. But no one wanted to take MT to task for saying it, because she had become the world's guilt eater, and both the Peace Prize and the pass she got for her indefensible views were her wages (not to mention an attempt at accelerated sainthood by the previous Pope, before he cashed out, too). So, I end up asking this: Is it worth it, all of this baggage, to avoid guilt over not being poor but knowing poverty exists for others? That's ultimately a personal question, and my answer is no. But I understand if someone feels otherwise, provided they do so realizing the bargain they're making.

And, ultimately, I don't have a problem with others thinking that MT was more good than bad, or just good period. I have offered my cuntjustification; do with it what you will.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I like that word so much I'm going to make it a new label, and I'll probably put it on every post from here on in. It just kinda rolls off the tongue.


Anyway, on to the reason for my little linguistic bundle of joy: A couple weeks back, a few of you mofos asked me what my beef was with the late Mother Theresa, a woman I have called a "cunt" on more than a few locations. Mercifully, since I was drunk, the conversation didn't go long, because I am somehow incapable of remaining dispassionate on the subject of this thieving whore.

But if any of you are curious, here's a short, funny, and accurate account of the basic beefs with Mother Theresa. If you need even more reason to hate this bitch after this, then I'll be more than happy to finish the job.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sky Blue Sky

I know we swore off music talk, but there’s not much else to write about right now (obviously).

The first few times I listened to the new Wilco record, I thought it sucked. My initial reaction was that they’d gone easy listening. I started scheming up a post designed to nettle Connor in which I would compare them to Coldplay.

Then I kept playing it, and something that is not uncommon for me happened: I was doing something else, halfway listening, and my ear latched onto a song. Actually, a part of a song, a single line, the chorus from “Leave Me Like You Found Me.” It was catchy. It stuck in my head.

Soon, I found myself replaying other lines in my head. “I try to stay busy…” from “Hate It Here.” Others I can’t think of right now. I still think it’s adult alternative, but not entirely in the pejorative sense; now I keep drawing Counting Crows parallels, and – go ahead and laugh – I like Counting Crows.

(Aside: I maintain that CC are a much better outfit than they’re given credit for being. Sure, they haven’t really grown as artists since they first hit it big, and that keeps me from arguing that they’re a great band, but I defy anybody to play August and Everything After and call them bad. Perhaps it’s because I go way back with Counting Crows, and associate their first three albums with seminal epochs in my life. Perhaps it’s because they played the first real concert I ever saw, and still the best, my freshman year at Centennial Hall. Whatever the reason, I think they get a bad rap, unfairly lumped in with the Collective Souls of the world. [The fact that they’re about to go on tour with Collective Soul doesn’t help.] I could write an entire post about this. Probably one of the 3,000-word variety.)

I’m still fairly certain Sky Blue Sky will never rank as one of my two favorite Wilco albums. Those are Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth, not necessarily in that order, and not necessarily not. And I do think this album is the kind of thing my Dad would listen to, which is far from a ringing endorsement. Still, I can’t help but kind of like it. Maybe it’s a case in which a band is good enough at what they try to do that I can excuse the fact that I don’t admire what it is they’re trying to do. In other words, Wilco is obviously comfortable making radio-friendly pop music of little substance; but it’s really, really good pop music.

I remember the Wilco that tried to be difficult and complex, and I prefer that version. My favorite thing about Summerteeth is the disjunct between the light melodies and the heavy lyrical content. I loved the fact that YHF contained an album’s worth of quintessentially American pop music that did not ignore the complications inherent to that label. I probably don’t like this album as much because I don’t think it tries to operate on any other level than an infectiously catchy one. I think they’ve settled into a sound.

The best albums I’ve heard this year are the Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire offerings, because neither of those bands rested on their laurels. Wilco did, I think. And yet, that said, this album’s still better than almost anything else out there.

(Funny story I couldn’t fit anywhere else in this post: I got into a semi-heated exchange some unknown band at Congress the other night when, after their show (which I paid to see), I walked into the bar wearing a Wilco shirt and one of them looked at it, scoffed, and said “Oh my God.” Turns out his generic twee-indie band once toured with Jay Farrar, so he thinks he’s important enough for anybody to care what he thinks of Wilco. Fucking hipsters.)

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Chopping Block

I think it's pretty clear to anybody who follows the Phillies at all that Charlie Manuel sucks at managing this team. His lineups boggle the sensible baseball mind; his players consistently make inexplicable baserunning errors; his understanding of situational baseball makes no sense whatsoever (I have yet to see him intentionally walk anybody or call for a bunt to move a runner over this season); he single-handedly sent Brett Myers to the DL by putting him in something like 16 games in a month, often with huge leads or deficits. He's going to get fired; it's just a matter of when.

However, as is always the case, the buck doesn't stop with Charlie Retarded. Pat Gillick committed some epic fuckups this off-season. First of all, on a team that needed pitching, especially relief pitching, he let walk or gave away the following players, as Paul Hagen discusses:

Randy Wolf (6-3, 66 IP, 71 K, 19 BB, 123 ERA+, 1.2 WHIP)
Ryan Franklin (21.3 IP, 2 BB, 12 K, 319 ERA+, 0.80 WHIP)
Aaron Fultz (14.3 IP, 229 ERA+, 0.90 WHIP)
Justin Germano (3-0, 359 ERA+, 0.76 WHIP)
Justin Miller (only 6.7 IP, and his WHIP's 1.50, but he has looked good as a reliever)

I can understand letting Wolf and Franklin walk. Wolf wanted to go back to California and apparently felt no loyalty whatsoever, despite the fact that he got paid something like $18M his last two years as a Phillie to contribute exactly nothing to the team. (Thanks, Wolfy. You did the Wolf Pack proud, you prick.) Franklin was abominable for the last four years of his career and will undoubtedly return to being so. And losing Germano or Miller would be understandable, because sometimes that kind of stuff just happens -- you lose or undervalue young pitchers who turn out to be good. Still, losing both seems pretty suspect.

However, letting Fultz go made so sense at all from the beginning. The Phils thought he would be overvalued? He signed for 1.8M! He was the only good lefty in the 'pen last year and had been remarkably consistent as a Phillie, and we had no other lefty bullpen options save for Fabio Castro (not ready for the majors) and Matt Smith (never will be). But he was overvalued?

I'll tell you who's overvalued, Pat Gillick. How about these stiffs who you bit on hook, like, and salary sinker:

Adam Eaton ($6.875 million, 60 IP, 28 BB, 1.49 WHIP, 74 ERA+ before today's two-inning disaster)
Freddy Garcia ($10 million, 1-4, 1.43 WHIP, 93 ERA+, one groundskeeper's cart collision)
Wes Helms ($2.7-ish million, .257 BA, .304 OBP, .309 SLG, 0 HR in 126 AB, .913 fielding at 3B)
Rod Barajas ($2.5 million, 21 games played, .213 BA, .351 OBP, .361 SLG, single-handedly lost at least two games with his defense)

That's right around $23 million worth of overvaluing, Pat. And yeah, I know I defended the Garcia signing, and even tried briefly to defend the Eaton signing before seeing the light. But what the fuck -- these are our big offseason pickups? If anything, they're hurting the team: Barajas and Helms are dead weight taking up roster spots and stealing time from other guys with some actual potential (Carlos Ruiz, Greg Dobbs). Not to mention poor Chris Coste marinating in Reading.

The Phillies are currently trailing 13-0 on their way to losing their fourth in a row. They'll be two games under .500 again in an hour, and we're now into June -- it's not just a slow start anymore. I thought they were turning it around with the sweep in Atlanta. I should have known better.

We can't do much about Pat Gillick -- and really, he's still better than Ed Wade -- but I'll be surprised if Charlie Manuel finishes this season. Dave Lopes should be the manager right now and probably will be by the break.